New Telegraph

Want to stay alive? Then, follow these instructions…

Any discerning reader of the late 70s and early 80s will immediately recall that the above quote is from the late English writer, René Brabazon Raymond. Of course, this name will not strike a chord with many of us, but almost everybody remembers the name James Hadley Chase – because that was the pseudonym he used to churn out some of the best prose, to become one of the best known thriller writers of all time. For lovers of fiction, the British-born writer was a must read! Back in the day, before the advent of modern technology, like social media, reading Chase novels was a must! Published in 1971, the central character of the novel, titled: ‘Want to stay alive?’ was Poke Tohola, a Seminole Indian, who was on to a smart racket.

His formula was that fear is the key that unlocks the wallets and handbags of the rich. He goes to Paradise City, the playground of the rich. The plan was to kill some of the rich and spread fear and panic in the city. He then teamed up with accomplices, Chuck, a cop-killer at 18, and Meg, beddable but a dumb broad.

The three of them turn Paradise City into “Panic City” after they launch their assault on the rich people of the affluent Florida city in their quest to make a quick buck! Knowing fully well that no one wants to die, especially the affluent, his formula was simple, kill a few rich people and then send a note to others saying: “Want to stay alive, just follow these instructions…”

Predictably, it elicited the right response, with the wealthy not ready to leave their enjoyment, willing to meet the demands of the Seminole Indian – especially as it appeared that they really had no other option since the police were unable to keep those already killed alive. Although the novel was written exactly 50 years ago, sadly, it is now a reflection of what is playing out in many parts of Nigeria. Boko Haram, bandits and whatever other name we give them, have now replaced the novel’s dramatis personnel, Poke Tohola, and are now using the same strategy to obtain from the people living in the areas under their spheres of influence. For instance, speaking recently to the BBC Hausa service, several Niger State residents said that their villages have resorted into entering into “Peace Pacts” with the bandits.

Under the deals, villagers pay money, motorbikes and supplies in exchange for their safety and permission to farm. Speaking further, they said the agreements are reached between community leaders and bandits’ kingpins, and that they had no option because terrorists are killing them with impunity and governments (both state and federal) have not come to their rescue despite promises.

They said attacks have started abating since the agreements were reached! However, before the BBC expose by those living in Niger, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III felt compelled to weigh in to the narrative due to the deteriorating security situation in the land following the gruesome murder of 43 rice farmers in Borno State last year.

In December, the spiritual leader of the Muslims in Nigeria called on the Federal Government to rise up to its responsibilities and go beyond the traditional condemnation and payment of lip service to security matters. Sultan in a statement, signed by the JNI Secretary-General, Dr. Khalid Aliyu, said: “Wanton killings, acts of banditry, kidnapping for ransom, high rate of unemployment amongst the youths, rape and all forms of terrorisms have now become the ‘New Trend’ in our communities.

“Nigerians have become so terrified, as nowhere is safe; the home, the farms, and the roads. Bandits now rule in many communities, they set rules that must be obeyed.” Reacting to the massacre of the rice farmers in Zabarmari, in Jere Local Government Area of Borno State, he said: “Forty-three human beings as reported by the media were slaughtered without any intervention by the security forces in the area.

The senseless act stands condemned in the strongest of terms. “Unfortunately, the common man is now caught in-between two contending phenomena; when he goes to the farm, he gets killed; and when he stays at home, he dies of hunger. It should be known that this singular act of Zabarmari was a calculated attempt to instil fears among farmers and jeopardise the frantic efforts of returning Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their localities by the Borno State government under the leadership of Governor Babagana Umar Zulum.

“For how long, would we continue to live a life in fear? For how long, can we continue to wait in vain? For how long, shall we continue to condemn acts of terrorism without any concerted efforts in ending it? For how long, would we continue to remain indolent? And for how long can we continue to remain hopeless in a precarious situation such as what we are in presently?” If these are not a sign of the massive failure on the part of the government to live up to its primary responsibility of protecting lives and property of the citizens then nothing is! Unfortunately, those in government do not see it this way, coming up with all manners of excuses to brush away their glaring failure. For instance, the Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, Garba Shehu, in the immediate reaction to the murder of the farmers telling the BBC that the farmers “did not have military clearance to be on their rice farms!” When asked if he was blaming the farmers for what happened to them, he said: “Not exactly, but the truth has to be said.

Is there any clearance by the military which is in total control of those areas? Did anybody ask to resume activities? I have been told by the military leaders that they have not been so advised.” Then early in the week, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announces to all that the Federal Government knows where bandits are located, but they are only being careful. The minister further said the insinuation in some quarters that the government was clueless was unfounded, adding that the result of the Buhari administration’s efforts would soon be evident.

Unfortunately for the minister, who last year also said Nigeria was the “safest country to live in”, his latest utterances hold no meaning for millions of his countrymen who have seen the situation in the so-called ‘Giant of Africa’ only getting worse with no glimmer of light at the end of the dark tunnel. For many of them rather than wait for salvation and non-existent help from the government, they have instead opted to play out a novel written some 50 years ago in order to stay alive!

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